Tricks For Parents of Picky Eaters

Wholesome TummiesAnyone who has ever used the expression “parenting isn’t easy” probably had a child who was a picky eater.

As the owner of Wholesome Tummies a local kids’ lunch catering business, I get parents calling, e-mailing and stopping me on the street to tell me that THEIR child is the pickiest eater in the world. It’s a common problem, more common than one might think.

In our business, we serve hundreds of kids each day, many of whom are picky eaters. We are not dieticians, but our experience has taught us a few tricks, which might help.

  • If you do not want your child to eat a particular food (i.e. Chicken Fingers or Hot Dogs), stop buying it. “What!? But what will my child eat?” Perhaps nothing and that is Okay. Your child will not starve. By continuing to buy the foods that are unhealthy, you are allowing the behavior to continue. You are the CEO of your kitchen and you can decide what comes in and out of it.
  • Offer it, but don’t force it. Keep putting the green beans on his plate. Just the exposure to it is important. If you throw in the towel and give up, he learns that it is ok to not have vegetables in his diet. One day, he might surprise you and try a bite.
  • Limit snacks. Let their tummies get a little empty and hungry before a meal. Then do what my business partner does with her kids (genius), give them appetizers. Put out a plate of carrots and yummy ranch dressing for them to dip. How about some celery with PB and raisins to start with? The combination of hunger and available snacks might entice them to give it a try.
  • Do not be a short order cook.  Your child should eat what you are eating for dinner, when you are eating dinner. Family dinners are key. Kids that eat as a family are far more likely to try new foods than those kids that are isolated from the family unit.
  • Be a good example. It goes without saying that if you are eating burgers, fries and a Coke, how can you expect your child to eat healthily? Practicing what you preach goes a long way.
  • Make mealtime a relaxed and fun time for your picky eater. Forcing, bribing and pleading will only create more stress and a power struggle. Try putting healthy foods in a positive light. Try not to label foods as “good” and “bad.”
  • Exposure, Exposure, Exposure. It can take 10-15 times for a child to finally try something new. Don’t give up hope! Keep making those healthy meals and one day, your child might just surprise you.
  • If all else fails, take a tip from recent bestseller cookbooks and “sneak” those veggies in. Pureed veggies are practically unnoticeable in soups, casseroles, spaghetti sauces and even desserts.

Implementing these ideas takes patience. Fussy eaters will not be turned around over night, but in time with some hard work and creativity, your child can learn to like and even love more healthful foods.

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7 Comments

  1. Heather Reneau
    Posted February 2, 2009 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    This was really helpful. I forwarded it on to some friends. Thanks!

  2. Posted February 13, 2009 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    We use the “appetizer” idea too. My son’s favorite is shrimp with cocktail sauce. It’s like he’s in a fancy restaurant!

  3. Karen D
    Posted February 14, 2009 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Good Points…I think I’ve been overdoing the snacks.

  4. Tara
    Posted February 16, 2009 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Have you ever heard the term, “You can’t out mule a mule” ? My child is more stubborn than any mule. If you try the old “they’ll eat eventually” routine with her, she will starve herself to death. I am not exaggerating. But before she does, her blood sugar level gets out of whack because she’s gone without eating for over 48 hours and then she gets real ugly.
    We’ve tried this route and I really don’t like going down that dark alley.
    Thank you, though, to all the Moms who suggest that and lucky for them it works.

  5. Chrissy
    Posted February 20, 2009 at 12:17 am | Permalink

    I admit my kids are over snacked…when they are hungry…and I haven’t prepared dinner I give them a quick (bad snack – gold fish, cookie…yada yada) I am inspired!! I am going to try to prep little healthy snack bowls and keep them in my fridge – so when the troops come crying for food…i can quickly give them a healthy appetizer(snack). Thanks Wholesome Tummies…

  6. Betsy
    Posted March 6, 2009 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    Tara: I have an eater like yours. Doesn’t matter how positive we are and what we put in front of her. At one point, the only fruit or veggie she would eat was orange juice. She is 4. We are starting therapy but have avoided it because of expense. Recently, her pediatrician recommended a gummie from Juice Plus, so she could get a “daily recommended dose” of fruits and veggies. It does not replace them; just compliments. It is “whole food” minus the sugars and salts. What we have noticed in her first month of eating these gummies at breakfast and dinner is that she is asking for healthier foods and juices. Now she is drinking berry juice and eating bananas. That is coming a long way for us. The rep for Juice Plus said that craving healthier foods is a bi-product of eating healthy foods. It’s a positive spiral just like sugar and junk food can be a negative spiral, where you crave more of the same. What’s the hardest is getting them to try anything new and the low blood sugar issue you mentioned. That’s why we did the Juice Plus gummies. There are a TON of scientific studies behind this product and I guess that is why our doctor knew about it. Anyway, if you want to have her information, you can email me: betsyschreyer@embarqmail.com. Good luck. I know it is not easy!

  7. Posted March 10, 2009 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Hi (well since I wrote the article I am not going to say anything bad about it but…) I am also guilty of over snacking. The worst is from 3-530 when they are basically begging for food non stop. We just say they can have a refrigerator snack and then a cabinet snack. Thats the rule in our house. So they usually have a fruit or a veggie (begrudgingly of course) or some yogurt with granola. By the time they finish that, they aren’t ready to down half a bag of smartfood popcorn or goldfish anymore! Also I think serving dinner in sections (like snacks) instead of all at once is better for the younger kids (ages 3-5ish) that way they dont POUNCE on the carbs first!

    Its a struggle I know..but hey we all didnt eat sushi and artichokes when we were 4 either. So much of this time will fix!